Empty spaces: confronting emptiness in national, cultural and urban history

Edited by Courtney J. Campbell, Allegra Giovine, and Jennifer Keating
Publication date: 
31 March 2019
245 × 163
Formats available : 

Within the expanding literature on spatial history, comparatively little has been said of the role that emptiness serves as a tool in the construction of historical narratives, as a condition that serves specific societal roles, or as a site of historical memory. This volume considers empty space, emptiness, or ‘nothingness’ to be an equal, if neglected component in the fabric of physical and imagined space, and suggests that those spaces which are considered empty and devoid of content are just as important to the social production of space and landscape as those which are remembered, celebrated or memorialized.

Empty Spaces proposes that the seeming emptiness of rural landscapes, urban environments, air and ocean in history should not be taken at face value. Rather, the authors recognise that often, and paradoxically, it is the presence of living beings or objects that defines a space as empty and barren, or untamed and dangerous. How is emptiness made and what historical purpose does it serve? What cultural, material and natural work goes into maintaining ‘nothingness’? Why have a variety of historical actors, from colonial powers to artists and urban dwellers, sought to construct, control and maintain (physically and discursively) empty space, and by which processes is emptiness discovered, visualized and reimagined?

The volume draws together contributions from authors working on landscapes and rurality, along with national and imperial narratives, from Brazil to Russia and Ireland. It considers the visual as an object of historical analysis, including the art of Edward Hopper and the work of the British Empire Marketing Board, while concluding with a section that examines constructions of emptiness in relation to capitalism, development and the (re)appropriation of urban space. In doing so, it foregrounds the importance of emptiness as a productive prism through which to interrogate a variety of imperial, national, cultural and urban history.